Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

25 JANUARY, 2012

“Sincerity, Honesty, Conviction, Affection, Imagination, and Humor”: A Profile of Charles Eames, 1946

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“You will not grasp how this furniture came into being or what it really means unless you understand this also about Charles Eames.”

Charles and Ray Eames have pioneered modernist furniture, carved out a new way to think about design, and even changed our understanding of the scales of the universe. Appearing in the September 1946 issue of arts & architecture magazine is a fantastic profile of Charles Eames (PDF) by industrial designer and architect Eliot Noyes, most famous for the IBM Selectric typewriter. Noyes captures Eames’ sprit and vision with equal parts creative admiration, entrepreneurial appreciation, and astute observation of the deeper cultural resonance — with a special emphasis on the designer’s personal values of integrity and intuition (more on that) as the building blocks of his professional legacy.

There is no need to qualify the statement. Charles Eames has designed and produced the most important group of furniture ever developed in this country. His achievement is a compound of aesthetic brilliance and technical inventiveness. He has not only produced the finest chairs of modern design, but through borrowing, improvising, and inventing techniques, he has for the first time exploited the possibilities of mass production methods for the manufacture of furniture. With one stroke he has underlined the design decadence and technical obsolescence of Grand Rapids.

When you stop and try to analyze how he approached the problem, it sounds very easy and obvious. Whatever good modern furniture we have had in this country has always been expensive. Eames wanted to produce a good set of designs and ‘take them out of the carriage trade’ by designing them so that they could be economically in quantity and sold cheaply. This meant that he must be able to use the best ways of doing things that the 20th Century could offer. Naturally he wanted his furniture to be as comfortable and useful as possible, because he never forgot that he was making his designs for use. This very direct approach made it comparatively simple. He never worried much (as many designers do) about ‘what the public wants,’ or ‘what the public will accept,’ because he had a profound belief in the public, and the conviction that if they didn’t want or wouldn’t accept the furniture which he was designing for their use, the fault lay in his designs, not in the public. He knew very well the absurdity of trying to design to an assumed public taste. It is important to realize that the furniture is an expression of this direct approach; each piece is composed as much of the personal ingredients of Charles Eames as of wood and metal. If you examine this furniture, you will find sincerity, honesty, conviction, affection, imagination, and humor. You will not grasp how this furniture came into being or what it really means unless you understand this also about Charles Eames.”

For more on the Eames’ work and legacy, don’t miss the fantastic recent film Eames: The Architect and the Painter.

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24 JANUARY, 2012

Lewis Hyde on Work vs. Labor and the Pace of Creativity

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On the osmosis of willful intention and flow.

After last year’s omnibus of 5 timeless books on fear and the creative process, a number of readers rightfully suggested an addition: Lewis Hyde’s 1979 classic, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, of which David Foster Wallace famously said, “No one who is invested in any kind of art can read The Gift and remain unchanged.”

One particular quote seems to resonate deeply with those of us who work in the loosely defined creative field.

Work is what we do by the hour. It begins and, if possible, we do it for money. Welding car bodies on an assembly line is work; washing dishes, computing taxes, walking the rounds in a psychiatric ward, picking asparagus–these are work. Labor, on the other hand, sets its own pace. We may get paid for it, but it’s harder to quantify… Writing a poem, raising a child, developing a new calculus, resolving a neurosis, invention in all forms — these are labors.

Work is an intended activity that is accomplished through the will. A labor can be intended but only to the extent of doing the groundwork, or of not doing things that would clearly prevent the labor. Beyond that, labor has its own schedule.

There is no technology, no time-saving device that can alter the rhythms of creative labor. When the worth of labor is expressed in terms of exchange value, therefore, creativity is automatically devalued every time there is an advance in the technology of work.”

What seems to be the defining characteristic of labor, the differentiator that sets it apart from work, is that it involves, or can induce, a state of what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow — a kind of intense focus and crisp sense of clarity where you forget yourself, lose track of time, and feel like you’re part of something larger. If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter for a pet project, or even spent 20 consecutive hours composing a love letter, you’ve experienced flow and you know labor.

Now, the question becomes, how do we bring this to work.

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23 JANUARY, 2012

It’s Only with the Heart One Can See Rightly: A Hand-Drawn Quote from The Little Prince

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“…what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince is not only one of my favorite children’s classics with philosophy for grown-ups, but is also among the finest books on optimism ever written. Its highly quotable and memorable wisdom endures as a timelessly existential lens on the world. From Hand Drawn Quotes comes this lovely visual rendition of one of my most beloved quotes from the classic:

It’s only with the heart one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

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